July 21, 2019 | 83° F

VACCHIANO: Rutgers should not choose political sides

Opinions Column: Tory Time

One might not expect that administrative officials at a public university would make their political views known and openly endorse specific legislation, but apparently, this is normal at Rutgers. Within the past two weeks, University President Robert L. Barchi has sent three distinctly political emails concerning the uncertainty of undocumented students during President Donald J. Trump’s first few weeks in office. Not only that, but Barchi also gave a speech at Tuesday’s #NoBanNoWall protest in front of a thousand students in response to Trump’s executive order suspending the entry of refugees and immigrants from certain Middle Eastern countries temporarily — and he is not a fan of Trump’s policy.

The most subtly egregious statement of Barchi’s speech was delivered at Tuesday’s protest, which was, “I urge you to join me in working with our senators and representatives in Congress to push back on immigration policies … that are counter to the spirit and vitality of higher education and research” — as in, he is explicitly urging students to become liberal political activists on the weak basis that “academia is international.” Barchi did not even try to explain how the “free exchange of ideas” would be substantially impacted by Trump’s immigration ban, which I would have appreciated because the connection was lost on me, but it would not matter. Whether Barchi is right is irrelevant — the fact is that people who are associated with publicly-funded universities on an administrative level should not be making political stances publically. It is just unnecessary, inappropriate and it polarizes the minority of Rutgers students who lean to the right.

The needlessness of it is clear. In one of Barchi's emails, he called for the "Opportunity to Advocate for Undocumented Students,” and provided a link that led to a pre-written letter that one could address and sign to send to a U.S. representative or senator urging them to support the Bar the Removal of Individuals who Dream and Grow our Economy (BRIDGE) Act. Oddly he acknowledged that “many in our community have participated in (political) activities,” yet paradoxically thought we did not know how to write a letter to our representatives or sign a petition. The people who were politically active and passionate enough about advocacy for undocumented immigrants knew this already — maybe a marginal amount of people learned something new, but the rest of us did not need to be told this. Despite his saying that he would “never presume to tell (us) what to do with respect to legislative advocacy,” Barchi’s email was definitely meant to sway students to a particular side. We are naturally inclined to believe what authority figures tell us, especially authority figures with doctorates and expertise in their field, so it is rather unethical for members of the Rutgers administration to be open about their political views and “provide students with the resources” to pressure us to believe what they want us to believe.

This is all understandable, though. Of course, Barchi and other administrative officials want to avoid trouble with certain student groups because some student groups are volatile and apt to fuss over nothing. I know this firsthand — when my club, Young Americans for Liberty (YAL), hosted Milo Yiannopoulos last year, I was one of the members who had to assign wristbands to students so they could be let in. Because the event was massively popular, we had to prioritize students who had ordered their tickets before a certain date. When one group of students almost weren’t let in because their tickets were ordered too late, my club was accused of racial discrimination. Two members of YAL were sent to speak to administrative officials after the group of students felt they were sufficiently discriminated against and had experienced racial hate — it was resolved that racism had nothing to do with it. And yet this lie continued in a speech at Tuesday’s protest, with one of the organizers citing how YAL tried to prevent minority groups from getting inside. Of course, we didn’t. But I get it, Barchi does not want to get on their bad side. If Barchi presumed to take a more neutral stance or kept his political views to himself, he probably would have been called racist too. Look at how feminists called for Taylor Swift’s head when she didn’t go to the Women’s March, and then tell me liberals don’t have a problem with nuance.

The volatility of Rutgers students, however, does not mean that the rest of us should feel polarized by the administration, whether we’re apolitical, politically moderate, conservative, libertarian or just strongly oppose loose immigration policies. Personally, I don’t feel strongly either way about Trump’s executive order — I’m hesitant about what Trump will do, but immigration policy has never been one of my strong suits, and both sides of the issue present compelling reasons. I am still uncomfortable with the Rutgers administration becoming political and endorsing specific legislation.   

Andrea Vacchiano is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore double-majoring in history and political science. Her column, "Tory Time," runs on alternate Fridays.

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Andrea Vacchiano

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